Saturday, March 22, 2014

10 Audiobooks Your Whole Family Will Enjoy

(or How to Survive 14 Hours in the Car with Small Children)

Since we live a very-long car drive away from my parents, I have spent years trying to figure out how to occupy small children on road trips. I have tried everything Pinterest  has to offer from busy bags to snack trays. I've tried backpacks full of toys, sing-a-longs, and dvds. Word to the wise: never teach children the song "Going on a Bear Hunt" at the beginning of a trip. We even once let our toddler methodically tear off every tab from a lift-the-flap book because it kept her quiet for a few hours.

Then a few years ago, I grabbed a couple of audiobooks from the library. For some reason, my then four-year-old liked the looks of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. I also grabbed the sequel, Super Fudge. We popped the cds in and started listening to the adventures of Peter and Fudge. When we stopped to stretch our legs at a store, the children started begging to go back to the car and chanting "More Fudgie! More Fudgie!" That's when I knew I was on to something.

Now before a trip, I pack a big bag of snacks and an equally big bag of audiobooks from the library. The kids grab a couple of small toys each, but the first thing they ask is, "Story, please."

Audiobooks have tons of benefits.
1. Hours of read-aloud time from great literature instead of hours spent singing the Strawberry Shortcake songs over and over in your  head. 
2. Whereas a dvd may get you through 90 minutes of a trip. A longer audiobook will last five to six hours.
3. No fancy equipment needed. Free from the library.
4. It's enjoyable for the whole family and educational.

Here are our family's all-time favorite audiobooks.  Hope you enjoy.

1. A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck, read by Ron McLarty.
It's become our unofficial tradition to listen to this trilogy of books from Richard Peck (A Year Down Yonder, A Season of Gifts) on our Thanksgiving trip each year. They only get better with listening. Joey and his sister Mary Alice spend their summer with their grandmother in a little town in Illinois. Grandma Dowdel is larger than life and one of the funniest characters in literature. Ron McLarty is our favorite audiobook reader and a perfect fit for this series. His old-lady voice is spot-on. I guess I should warn you that there is a corpse in the book and frequent use of a double-barrel shotgun and a lot of drunk men singing in their underwear, so if that's not your taste, well, listen anyway.

 2. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright, read by Colleen Delany
This was our family's top pick from last year. Portia and her cousin Julian discover an abandoned lakeside community and eccentric elderly brother and sister, Pindar Payton and Minnehaha Cheever, who live there. We fell in love with every part of this book from the secret clubhouse the children build in the attic of one of the Victorian mansions to the ancient clothes and cars and the "heavily-embroidered names" of the characters. We followed it up with every Elizabeth Enright book we could find.

3. The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry, read by the author.
We have listened to this Christmas book several time. It's funny, as you might expect from Dave Barry, but it's also quite warm and touching. Set in the 1960s, Doug Barnes is playing a shepherd in the Christmas play at the Episcopal church. When his sister's beloved dog dies right before the pageant, the family needs a miracle to get through the Christmas season. Catholic vs. Episcopal nativity prank wars, goofing off at the pageant, an invasion of ants in family car, and a lot of frozen bat poop make for a very funny story. 

4. Fair Weather by Richard Peck, read by Estelle Parsons
Set in 1893, three country siblings, their grandfather and his dog, Tip, attend the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. Along with Richard Peck's great sense of humor, you get a great history lesson into the changes going on at the end of the 19th century. Estelle Parsons narration is really terrific too.

5. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo, read by Cherry Jones
When Opal moves to a new town with her distracted preacher father, she finds friendship in the form of a dog named Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie brings a cast of eccentric, but loving people into Opal's life. Kate Dicamillo is one of my favorite authors and this is one of my favorite books by her. Of course, all of the dog-lovers in our family were especially fond of this title.
6.The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, read by the author
The Trumpet of the Swan is a classic about a swan with no voice who learns to play the trumpet and finds love. This audiobook is especially great because it's read by E.B. White. We loved this story and are always on the look-out for swans.

7. The Doll People by Ann M. Martin, read by Lynn Redgrave
A 100-year-old porcelain doll family meet their new neighbors, the plastic Funcrafts and together they solve a mystery and find a missing member of the family. We loved Lynn Redgrave's narration especially her different accents for the doll families. There are two sequels also read by Redgrave.

8. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, read by Suzanne Toren
A big family of girls growing up in New York at the turn of the century. Simple family adventures and a look into Jewish culture and holidays. Suzanne Toren really captures the different voices well.

9.The Penderwicks, A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall read by Susan Denaker
The Penderwicks  has all the charm of classic family adventure books like ones by Elizabeth Enright, but in a modern-day setting.

10. Pie by Sarah Weeks, read by Kate Rudd
A mystery involving a top-secret pie crust, a fat cat named Lardo, and a young girl who learns the real secret to baking pie. This book introduced us to the fun of listening to mysteries as a family. While there is a funeral at the beginning, the mystery stays warm and sweet instead of spooky. And it caused our toddler to chant, "Pie! Pie!" every time we got into the car.


  1. I'm a few years late but just wanted to say what a great list!

  2. The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry is a great audiobook and anything by Eva Ibbotson. Love the Year Down Yonder!